Backyard Farming: Year One

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tomato time!

Today's tomato harvest:

6 Mexico Midgets
3 Jellybeans
1 Homestead

I pulled the Homestead a little early because some Bluejays were
lurking around the garden this morning and I was worried they'd damage
it before it could ripen. It's fully red and just needs to soften up
a little---a few days on the countertop will solve that. The Stupice
is starting to ripen its first tomato. I think I will be putting some
bird netting out because the plant is a little leggy and there's not
much foliage covering the fruit. Any Jaybird worth his feathers will
be spotting it soon. White Beauty and Snow White Cherry have set
fruit, but none is ripe yet. At least, I don't think any is ripe.
Some of the white tomatoes are turning from green to white, but
they're all still super hard. Brandywine doesn't have fruits or

Friday, May 28, 2010

First tomato, wildlife discoveries

Big news! We have eaten our first homegrown tomatoes! Two tiny Mexico Midget tomatoes ripened in the last week, and the hubs and I had one each. Each tomato was only about half an inch in diameter, but they packed a wallop of perfect tomato flavor. Very intense, and VERY tomato-y. I’ve been combing the tomato plants every day in the hopes of finding another one. I found one more Mexico Midget that was starting to turn red, but the backside had been eaten by some anonymous critter, so I pulled it to let the plant focus on the non-damaged fruits.

The Jelly Bean tomatoes are starting to redden, but don’t feel quite ripe yet. I’m hoping we’ll have 2 or 3 as a treat for the holiday weekend. I will say that these grape tomatoes are quite a bit bigger than I thought. They’re looking more like mini-Romas – the biggest one is a good 2 ½ inches long and over an inch in diameter at the shoulders!

The seeds I started last week are in desperate need of transplanting. Luckily, I realized that the watermelon radishes I planted are a winter radish and will be bolting shortly due to the hot weather. In the spirit of wasting not and wanting not, I will be pulling them all up this weekend and making the leaves into radish pesto. This will clear out a 1 X 1 foot plot on the sunniest corner of the east bed for some basil and nasturtiums. I haven’t quite decided what to do with the zinnias yet. I think I might put them in one of the planter boxes on the front of the house. They’ll add some color and be easy to get to when I want cut flowers. Also, I won’t have to put in a border to protect them from accidental mowing.

Early in the garden’s history, the Charentais melon hill got dug up by squirrels. One of the melon seedlings was uprooted and had to be replanted, but the other was undisturbed. Well, the undisturbed melon has flourished and is now vining up the trellis and flowering up a storm. The other one has remained only about 6 inches tall and is completely shaded by its neighbors – the White Beauty tomato and Black Beauty Zucchini. In my seed-starting frenzy last week, I sowed a few more melon seeds to replace this poor little guy. I think I’m going to try growing them in some big containers on the outside of the bed next to the trellis and see what happens.

The garden is starting to attract the attention of some interesting wildlife. The white cabbage moths (or are they butterflies?) have continued to visit and probably leave some eggs behind, but since the cabbage worms have eaten all my lacinato kale, I have no idea what is attracting the moths. I guess next time I see a lacy leaf, I’ll know. I had planted a struggling dill plant last week and was pleased to see it recovering beautifully from transplant shock. Today, I noticed that all its lovely ferny foliage had been decapitated. I also found a very interesting green and black striped, red horned caterpillar, which I later identified as a swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. Guess what swallowtail caterpillars like to eat? Dill. Parsley. Probably carrot greens. I removed him from the garden and put him in a jar with some sacrificial parsley. Maybe we’ll get to see some chrysalis and pupa action!

I have also removed a mating pair of spotted cucumber beetles, a few tiny, pea-sized slugs, and quite a few green cabbage worms. Hopefully, inspecting daily and hand-picking any unwelcome bugs will be sufficient to deter any real infestations.

The melon and zucchini are both flowering like mad, but so far I’ve only seen male flowers. I’ve read that the male flowers will appear well in advance of the females to assure that pollen will be available when the female flowers appear, but I’ve been watching flowers open and close fruitlessly (literally) for 2 weeks now.
I’d be much more frustrated if I wasn’t picking up all the spent flowers every morning and feeding them to my rabbits. Nothing is more adorable than watching a bunny eat flowers.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day late, dollar short, as usual

I have some catching up to do already! I've remembered to take weekly pictures, they just haven't made it to the internet yet. Stupid real life getting in the way of blogging...

We have eaten our first produce from the garden. Some small radishes last weekend, a few leaves of our own chard thrown in with big bunches from the farmer's market, and several big bowls of baby lettuces.

The radishes had enormous, healthy greens, but the roots weren't very big yet despite what the seed packet said would be the recommended harvest date. I'm wondering if the soil is too high in nitrogen and is encouraging lush foliage growth at the expense of roots and fruits. The tomatoes are all flowering, and all but the Brandywine tomato are setting fruit, so I'm hoping the radishes are just extra leafy because they are partly shaded by our big pecan tree.

Next seed packet suggested harvest date is June 6 for golden beets and Stupice tomatoes. Until then, it's lettuces and radishes and chard, oh my.

I picked up some more herbs to transplant into the west bed as the lettuces start to bolt. I had room to put in a small dill plant and a medium sized bunch of chives. I have a big hulk of a basil plant to add, but I'm going to wait until some space gets cleared out, probably after the carrots are harvested later in the summer. Until then, the basil will be happy enough with the other basils I have growing in the herb pots next to the front door.

I also figured out why the lacinato kale has been looking so lacy. Cabbage worms! They finished off the kale and started working on my arugula and nasturtiums. I've been going out and picking them off daily, along with any slugs or other little munchers I can find. Soon, I'm going to set out some saucers of beer to lure the slugs out into the open and then let all our backyard birds deal with the slimy drunkards! To head off any more garden party crashers, I have planted marigolds around some of the tomatoes and am starting more marigold seeds (saved from my container garden) to transplant later.

Also started from seed:
- Nasturtiums
- Basil
- Zinnias
- I guess I should have written this down, because that's all I can remember. I can recognize the nasturtium leaves, and I can smell which one is basil, but I think I'm going to have to be surprised when the other seedlings put on a few sets of true leaves and jog my memory about their identities!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Week 2: First tomato sighting!

The husband and I got out of town for a quick escape to Austin and Fredericksburg last weekend, and due to extra work (and a short weekend) I haven't taken this week's garden photo yet. Week 2 garden portrait:

Garden - Week 2
East bed is in the foreground of this photo.
Click through for a closer look at the individual beds: East & West.

Last week before we left on our trip, I spotted the first tomato on one of the Mexico Midget plants.

First tomatoes!

The Jellybean and Homestead plants also have tomatoes, and all the tomato plants are looking very sturdy and healthy with lots of blossoms. No sign of any floppiness which would require trellising or staking just yet. My theory is if I wait to start supporting them until they really need it, the plants will grow stronger stems.

A closer look at the zucchini plant found buds upon buds right in the center of the plant. Not sure if these will turn into flowers or leaves, but something is going to happen!

Zucchini - preparing for giant growth!

My backyard is plagued with squirrels. PLAGUED. I am so frustrated with them that even though I have been a vegetarian for more than half my life, and have never purposely killed anything other than an ant, roach, or mosquito, I was seriously thinking about buying a pellet gun this morning. Not a lethal pellet gun, of course, but if there was some way to give those little jerks a serious sting on the butt when I catch them digging without any risk of actually harming them, I would be very interested.

Internet seems to think that I can plant marigolds and keep them out, but I'm not so sure. If they don't dig up the plants immediately after I transplant them, I don't see why they wouldn't just jump over them or go around and dig somewhere else in the garden. A flowerbed full of marigolds would be effective, but unless my understanding of the plant world is very wrong, marigolds don't make tomatoes or melons or zucchini.

I found some spray at the garden center today that claims to keep pretty much every animal away (dogs, cats, possums, SQUIRRELS, rabbits, raccoons, frogs), but the ingredients list was more than a little offputting... Blood, putrified egg whites, and garlic. Maybe the fact that I thought it was too gross to buy is a sign of its squirrel repelling potential.

Since they have killed one of my melon vines already, I'm getting ready to try pretty much any non-lethal tactic.

This week's garden to-do list:
- move lemon tree outside, hope bees pollinate some of the flowers so we can have a chance of seeing our first lemon (I have had the tree for almost 4 years)
- set up soaker hoses for easy watering
- mulch
- dig up volunteer tomato seedlings, root tomato cuttings, deliver baby plants to my brother since all his tomato seeds failed
- transplant chives, dill, and parsley into the west bed
- transplant Principe Borghese tomato into container
- plant marigolds in favorite squirrel digging spots
- start seeds: basil, zinnias, melons to replace the squirrel victims, more marigolds and nasturtiums

I think that's enough for one week, considering I only have about an hour every morning to work outside before I have to get in bed.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Week 1 Progress Report

I went out to shoo a squirrel off the beds Wednesday morning, and the radishes had already sprouted! Less than 72 hours after planting, which is the fastest I've ever seen anything sprout!

When I checked today, the lettuces are up, both types of radishes are coming along nicely, and the arugulas are peeking out of the soil under the hay. No carrots yet, and my chives aren't looking too hot. One of those jerk squirrels dug up the middle of my melon mound sometime since Thursday morning. Thankfully, it has been raining so the roots didn't dry out before I found the damage and covered everything back up.

Week 1 - Radishes are here!

What a difference a week makes! Not only have the radishes sprouted like mad, but all the little transplants (beets, chard, lettuces) have straightened up and started to establish themselves. Last week, even the light mulching of hay was bending the transplant leaves over the side. I honestly wasn't sure if they were going to make it, but this week they are looking great! I'm still a little worried about the Lacinato kale that I planted, it's looking a bit leggy and hasn't started to fill out at all yet. I know I'm pretty late getting a cold-loving crop like kale started so late in the year, but we have a neverending need for greens due to our pet bunnies. So even if it doesn't produce too well, we can chop it down and feed it to them when it gets hotter.

Last year, we subscribed to a CSA, and the lady that runs it is at the Cowtown Farmer's Market every week with flowers and plants. This week, she had A TON of heirloom tomato, pepper, cucumber, and squash plants, in addition to her usual variety of herbs and flowers. She had a couple of buckets of ranunculus (which are my #1 favorite flower), but I managed to resist them and got a couple of tomato plants instead. I had been wanting a drying tomato and a black tomato, and luckily, she had both! I got a Principe Borghese (for drying) and a Black Sea Man. I was also going to get a cucumber plant, but since some cucumbers can hybridize with melons and make weird fruits, I figured I'd do some research on what kind of cucumber won't screw up my Charentais melons. I'm so looking forward to those!

It's still rainy today, and there isn't too much to do in the garden. I got my poor leftover sweet pepper planted this week, and my dahlias. I will have to go buy some containers for my new tomato prizes, but the plants are quite small, so I have some time.

Today, I'm going to:
- make our yogurt for this week (1 quart, whole milk, Liberte plain yogurt for the starter)
- make strawberry freezer jam and apricot compote
- roast some cherry tomatoes that are a bit past salad-quality and tuck them away in the fridge for tossing with a pasta later this week
- bake a loaf of bread
- and put together a spring celebration dinner

At the market yesterday, I picked up a big bunch of radishes, a bunch of jumbo asparagus, a tub of fresh goat cheese, and a block of goat's milk butter. I think tonight's dinner will be radish greens soup, roasted asparagus, home-baked wheat baguette with butter and cheese, and yogurt for dessert with apricot compote or strawberry jam.

We already had eggs for breakfast, poached and served over creamed Ruby chard. Otherwise, we would have this very nice looking open-faced sandwich for supper. Maybe we can eat eggs twice in one day...

Yard eggs

Or maybe I'll save the asparagus for tomorrow's supper and stretch out the spring a little bit longer.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Planting complete!

Everything is planted! Well, almost. One pepper got left out because I couldn't find the right place, and I'll probably get one or two more tomatoes if I find varieties that I'm missing (one for drying, a black tomato). I spent about a week rearranging post-it notes on a 4x4 grid that I made up, and then ended up diverging quite a bit from my carefully laid plan once I saw how all the plants were fitting together, and noticing where I could squeeze in just a few more plants!

I'm hoping that the pecan tree doesn't shade the east bed too terribly much once it finishes leafing out. I knew that it wouldn't get quite as much sun as the west bed, but I think the pecan may have grown more than I expected since I was laying out where to put the beds late last summer.

Week 0 - Just planted

So, here we are. Week Zero. It was partly sunny when I planted everything, and I was worried about the sun drying out the tender transplants and cooking all seedlings before they could get established. I looked for an inexpensive shade cloth before I planted today, but couldn't find what I wanted. I decided a light layer of hay would provide some shade to the transplants until their roots could get established and would help keep moisture in the soil for sprouting the seeds.

I'm going to need shade cloth by early summer anyway. Hopefully I can keep my lettuces from bolting and extend the season for radishes by a few weeks.

After I finished all the planting, I sat down with my iPod Touch and seed packets, counted out all the estimated harvest dates, and set them all as appointments in my calendar! So nerdy, but so incredibly satisfying. Radishes will be up first, on May 11.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Garden is Born!

After years of being limited to container gardens due to the need for portability and lack of space, I will have my first official garden this year!

Husbeast helped me build two 4 x 4 beds, each 12 inches high. One is currently filled with dirt and settling in, and the second is ready to be filled. This week, I will be moving one or two wheelbarrow-fuls of dirt at a time around to the backyard and hope to be ready to plant both beds by next weekend.

Even though I am glad to have expanded out to the "official garden," I'm still planting in containers. This weekend, I rearranged my herb planters, adding mint and a tiny creeping thyme. I also planted a few new containers, one with Salmon Geranium, Chartreuse Sweet Potato vine, Sweet Alyssum for next to the front door and the first of several big containers to hold the plants that wouldn't fit in the garden proper. One container has Bright Lights Swiss Chard and Black Velvet Nasturtiums, the second has one Homestead tomato plant and some marigold seeds I saved from last year.

I'm glad I started my seeds early, it's made up for some of the time that I've been delayed in building and filling the big beds.

For (my) future reference, here's the (probably too ambitious) list of plants I thought I'd grow this year:


  • Brandywine
  • Stupice
  • Mexico Midget
  • Jellybean Grape
  • Snow White Cherry
  • White Beauty
  • Homestead

Zucchini – Black Beauty*
Cantaloupe – Charentais*


  • Buran Sweet Red
  • Ancho Gigantea*


  • Sweet Nantes*
  • Burpee Little Finger*


  • French Breakfast*
  • Watermelon*


  • Bull's Blood*
  • Burpee Golden*


  • Nasturtium - Black Velvet* & Milkmaid
  • Chives*
  • Marigolds* (mutts from saved seeds, they will be a surprise!)
  • Italian Parsley*
  • Cilantro
  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Thyme - Doonan Valley, Creeping Mother, Silver Lemon
  • Oregano - Golden


  • Arugula* - Sylvetta & Roquette
  • Mixed Lettuces* - Amish Deer Tongue, Australian Yellowleaf, Bronze Arrowhead, Forellenschuss, Lollo Rossa, Pablo, Red Velvet, & Reine des Glaces
  • Swiss Chard - Rhubarb* & Bright Lights
  • Kale - Lacinato*

(* from seed)

I'm still working out where everything would go, but my seedlings are getting leggy, so they'll need to get a permanent home very soon or else!